Big Island Coronavirus Updates

Inmates Sew Cloth Face Masks for PSD Staff, Community

April 16, 2020, 10:46 AM HST
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Inmates at Hawai‘i Community Correctional Center have joined the work line in sewing cloth face masks to protect staff and prisoners from the spread of COVID-19.

Inmates at Waiawa Correctional Facility (WCF) on O‘ahu and Kulani Correctional Facility (KCF) in Hilo started the sewing project on April 1 with the assistance of the Hawai‘i Correctional Industries (HCI) who supplied the fabric, sewing supplies and sewing machines for the inmates.

The rollout of the masks has already begun, providing the facial protection to the Public Safety Department’s Corrections Division, Health Care Division, Law Enforcement Division and Administrative Division staff. The work lines are still working on the internal orders for staff and inmates, which isn’t expected to be completed until the end of next week.

“On top of the personal protective gear already on-hand within our Divisions, we wanted to make sure everyone has a couple washable, reusable cloth masks. We don’t have any confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our facilities and we are making every effort to keep it that way,” said Nolan Espinda, Department of Public Safety Director. “We also wanted to provide our PSD staff with this extra layer of protection that they can use while working out in the community and as they go about their daily lives.”

On April 10, officials said, work lines are currently producing 600-700 cloth masks per day. By April 17, HCI is projecting daily production goals of 1,200 masks per day, and by April 30, they anticipate manufacturing a minimum of 1,500 masks a day. The total order for the Department is currently 14,000 masks. Delivery will be in phases over the next few weeks and is estimated to be completed by the end of the month.

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PSD wants to make sure everyone in the Department’s Corrections, Law Enforcement and Administrative Divisions has at least two cloth masks each.

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Since all non-essential inmate programming is temporarily suspended, wardens at WCF and KCF jumped at the chance to provide a program that keeps inmates busy, teaches them a new skill, and gives them a meaningful way to contribute to society.

“This was a great opportunity to give the inmates something productive to do and keep them from becoming idle. These guys were eager to play a part in helping our community by volunteering their time. In the short time the Kulani sewing program has been in production, they’ve made over 600 masks and counting,” says KCF Warden Wanda Craig.

To meet the increased demand, HCI is working with Hawaii Fabric Mart and Printex Fabrics. Donations from the public are also sought. Materials needed include:

  • Sewing machines.
  • Sewing machine needles.
  • New fabric by the yard (100% cotton or any poly cotton fabric).
  • Plastic tables.
  • Irons with small tabletop ironing boards.
  • Fabric scissors.
  • Thread – all colors.
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Other state government departments and outside agencies have shown interest in purchasing masks for their staff. Hawai‘i Correctional Industries will be expanding to include orders for cloth masks for outside agencies once the PSD orders are completed. The Department of Health is already in line to place its order, and other agencies are eagerly standing by with their cloth mask orders.

Inmates in the sewing program have also found the project rewarding. Their hope is to provide masks for the keiki and kūpuna once all internal orders are completed.

“This is our opportunity to give back. We have children, grandkids, nieces and nephews. I thought about my keiki. I thought about their safety and what they are going through right now out there. It’s definitely a privilege for us to take on a project like this,” said WCF inmate Benjamin Zablan.

WCF inmate Keoni Hylton said he’s been prepping his mom for her mandatory 14-day quarantine when she returns to the islands from Arizona next month.

She’s amazed that I’m sewing these masks that she may probably wear,” Hylton said. “My mom is up there in age too. She falls into one of those categories, the elderly, and has underlying conditions. It is something of an intimate situation for me, it does hit home.”

Anyone interested in donating equipment or sewing supplies can contact Hawai‘i Correctional Industries at 808-677-6638 or email [email protected]

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